Guess what, kids? It's amorphous film week here at Ed's Movie Corral!
Julie and Julia
is the latest from Nora Ephron (Bewitched, Sleepless in Seattle
), who read about Julia Child's life in France and how she became the first superstar of cooking and said, "This woman is a complex, mesmerizing, lovable character and her story is extraordinary, but that's not enough to sustain a movie. What I need is a frivolous parallel plot line!"
So Nora -- who loves parallel plot lines -- turns to Julie Powell's 2005 book Julie and Julia
, about Powell's plan to follow every recipe in Child's landmark 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
, within 365 days, blogging about her mission along the way.
I haven't read Powell's blog, or the book that followed it, so all I have to go by is the character that appears on screen, and hoo boy, let me tell you, slapping together the story of a one-of-a-kind figure who accomplished something grand with the year-long hobby of a mostly pleasant, but self-absorbed New Yorker is a big mistake. Julie and Julia
manages to simultaneously lionize and minimize Julia Child, while making its other lead character look petty and attention-starved.
That said, I still liked enough about the movie to recommend it. Meryl Streep has a field day creating her version of the wonderfully earthy Child, a hulking 6-foot-2 woman with an oddly melodic voice and a unique mix of charm and determination. She is a marvel to behold. Her fairy tale relationship with her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci, at his best here) is otherworldly -- I loved watching this couple deal with life's challenges while managing to seem like they were waltzing together through the clouds. Child's story is that of a person who didn't fit in with others in America but found liberation abroad. Fascinating. Inspiring. Funny, yet endearing.
And then there's Julie. The winning Amy Smart -- who has to be related to Jenna Fischer of The Office
-- plays Ms. Powell, who is about to turn 30 and is not at all happy about it. "What have I accomplished with my life?" she wonders, before deciding to spend a year following a cookbook and being a drama queen. Interesting choice, but hey, whatever works. Julie also has an exceptionally devoted husband, Eric (Chris Messina, in a fine turn), but as the project rolls on and Julie becomes increasingly fixated on the reactions to her blog, they begin to bicker. No waltzing in the clouds here.
There are major challenges in Julia Child's life in France with husband Paul, but Ephron short-shrifts all of that, while lingering too long on the disagreements between Child and her two co-writers. Meanwhile, equal time is spent on Julie, her burgeoning Internet fame and her many crises, which come off as trivial by comparison. Buck up, Julie, and stop making mountains out of molehills. If Julia Child is your hero, then embrace her spirit along with her recipes.
Julie and Julia
tested my patience -- the lack of substantive drama is tiring -- but the performances of the four leads make the film work (well, sort of, in a fuzzy, shapeless way) nonetheless. By the way, plan to eat shortly after seeing the movie, because it really stirs up your appetite.
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